The Family Separation Crisis Isn’t Over — Here’s How to Help

Immigration children

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” immigration policy, under which migrants caught entering the United States without authorization — including those seeking asylum and those crossing over with children — would be charged with “illegal entry.” More than 3,700 migrant children have been separated from their parents as a result. After weeks of saying he couldn’t do anything about the family separation crisis he caused, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday that would “[keep] families together, while at the same time being sure we have a very powerful, very strong border.”

Trump’s executive order is more sinister than it sounds. It’s true that migrant kids (mostly) won’t be taken from their parents anymore — instead, migrant children and their parents will be indefinitely held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, some of which are owned and operated by for-profit companies. These centers are rife with abuse and exploitation, and are hardly a suitable place for a child to grow up.

To make matters worse, the executive order isn’t retroactive. “There will not be a grandfathering of existing cases,” Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, told The New York Times. And since the order violates a 1997 settlement known as the Flores agreement, which mandates that immigrant children can’t be indefinitely detained by ICE, Trump will probably face a legal challenge soon.

All of this means that the family separation crisis isn’t over yet, no matter what the White House says. It’s easy to feel powerless while reading about children being taken from their families]. But there are plenty ways to help. A few of them below.

Call your representatives

There are several immigration bills on the table right now, some of which are more effective at actually helping families than others: House Republicans have put forward the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, a flawed piece of legislation that would keep families detained together, provide $25 billion for Trump’s border wall, and make it even more difficult to apply for asylum. Senator Ted Cruz introduced a bill that would keep families together (in ICE detention) but would require that asylum cases are decided within two weeks, which would likely reduce the number of people who are granted asylum. These cases are often complicated because they require a high burden of proof. Since immigration cases are handled by civil courts, the government doesn’t provide asylum seekers with free legal services — meaning they have to find a lawyer on their own or argue their case themselves, which is complicated when they are detained, traumatized, may not understand the legal process, and don’t speak English. There are much better alternatives. The Keep Families Together Act — which would prevent migrant families from being separated unless there was evidence of abuse or neglect — has been endorsed by every Democratic senator. But it still needs Republican support. A similar bill was introduced in the House this week. Call your representatives, both in the House and in the Senate, and tell them you support the Keep Families Together Act and won’t settle for anything less.


Mass protests work. Part of the reason judges challenged Trump’s Muslim ban in court was because of the mobilization of people across the country. Trump’s latest executive order is a violation of immigrants’ due process rights, and will likely be challenged in court. Cities across the country are protesting the family separation policy and the indefinite detention of families on June 30 — you can find a protest near you here. If there isn’t an event planned in your city, start one yourself!

Donate to organizations doing work on the ground

Giving money can feel distant, but your donations can make a real impact on thousands of migrants’ lives. The Immigrant Bail Fund and Grassroots Leadership both help pay detainees’ expensive bonds, which can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $20,000. Groups like CARA, The Florence Project and RAICES Texas provide pro-bono representation to detained immigrants and are always in need of donations. Al Otro Lado provides refugees on both sides of the border with legal and social services. The Kino Border Initiative similarly provides aid to refugees on both sides of the border, always needs donations and supplies like gently used clothing, toiletries, garbage bags. You can find even more organizations to donate to here and here.

Represent immigrants pro-bono

Since immigration cases are handled by civil courts, people in deportation proceedings aren’t provided with a lawyer if they can’t afford one — and immigrants who have legal representation have a much higher chance of winning their case. Kids In Need of Defense is always looking for lawyers to volunteer their time. If you don’t specialize in immigration already, they’ll give you the training and resources you need to help. There’s also the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, American Gateways in Central Texas, and the New York State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Portal. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has also compiled a list of pro-bono opportunities.

Volunteer to be an immigration court interpreter

Immigrants in deportation proceedings aren’t provided with free lawyers or interpreters. For those who don’t have a lawyer — and don’t speak English — defending themselves in court is nearly impossible. If you speak another language and have time to spare, volunteer to be an interpreter in immigration court. You’ll help people fill out asylum applications and fight deportation. Stand With Immigrants can help you find a volunteer opportunity near you.

Visit detained immigrants

Immigrants in detention centers are often isolated from their friends and loved ones. If you live near an ICE detention center — and you might, since there are hundreds of them across the country — you can visit detained immigrants through Freedom for Immigrants’ volunteer program. If you don’t live near a facility, there are still ways you can volunteer, like becoming a pen pal with someone in detention, answering calls from detained immigrants, or even hosting people who are eligible for release in your home.

Foster a refugee child

Even though the Trump administration has said it won’t separate children from their families going forward, there are thousands of kids who are still being kept in shelters and group homes, often in horrible, abusive conditions. It’s unclear whether their parents even know where they are, or whether the government is taking steps to reunite the families it has torn apart.

It goes without saying that becoming a foster parent is a huge decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. If this is something you’re interested in doing (and feel practically and emotionally equipped to do, given many of the children have suffered so much trauma) consider contacting an organization like the Cayuga Center in New York, which is looking for Spanish-speaking foster parents in particular. CNN has compiled a list of where migrant children are being sent, including Virginia, Michigan and Florida.

If I missed any organizations doing this important work, please add them in the comments below.

 Gaby Del Valle is a freelance reporter focusing on immigration. She was previously a staff writer at The Outline. Her work has appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Broadly, Playboy, and elsewhere.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

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